Google algorithm & SEO updates – what businesses need to know

29 March 2021

Google operates by using specific algorithms to rank websites within their search engine. They pride themselves on delivering the best possible results for a query, so they regularly update their algorithms to ensure that they are capturing the data that they need from your website. 

Though Google will never say exactly what is included in their algorithms, updates can cover everything from the quality of your content to the usability of your website, as well as a range of other factors.  

We know that these updates and changes can often be a worrying time for business owners as they may potentially see their website take a ranking or organic traffic hit. To help you recover from any past algorithm changes and prepare your website for any future SEO updates, read on.  

Before we startnote that there are three types of Google algorithm updates 

Minor algorithm updates – Slight refinements to micro-algorithms 

Thousands of these minor updates are rolled out on a yearly basis and happen daily. They’re too small to notice but aim to improve the relevancy of search results over time.  

Broad core algorithm updates – General adjustments to the main algorithm 

Typically occur three or four times a year, during which Google revisits which ranking factors, such as content or backlinks, contribute most to overall success in search results.  

Major algorithm updates – Adjustments to micro-algorithms to address a specific issue, such as low-quality content or keyword stuffing  

Usually occur once or twice a year. Luckily, Google will often release a statement to give you a heads-up on any upcoming updatesproviding you with enough time to prepare and make any relevant changes.  

Recovering from a past algorithm update and preparing for future SEO changes 

If your website has felt the impact of a recent update then Google has made it clear that there are no quick fixes that businesses can put in place. In fact, most digital marketers expect that any changes will take months rather than weeks to come to fruition, and they recognise that it could take a long time for your site to recover. This is because Google wants to see a real focus on improving quality over the long term, so changes will really need to be established before your place in the search engine rankings can be restored. 

Whilst this could feel disheartening, the good news is that there are lots of positive changes that you can make to ensure that over time your website ranking does improve again. We are certain that if you put the following initiatives into place then not only will it help your site in the search engines, but it will also help your business and marketing strategy overall. 

High-quality content  

High-quality content which adds real value to your users and gives them the information that they are searching for is an invaluable tool for boosting your site in Google’s rankings. Websites that only have low value or thin content will not be rewarded in search engines 

Past algorithm updates:  

  • Major Panda update in February 2011:  

Google now assigns a quality score to websites. Those with a high percentage of duplicate plagiarised and thin content, as well as those with a high ad-to-content ratio, are scored lower and are not rewarded in the search engine result pages. 

  • Major Medic update in August 2018 

One aspect of this update highlights that getting expert authors, copywriters or industry insiders to write your website content – pages, blogs or how to guides etc, will help the search engines to view your site favourably.  

  • Major BERT update in October 2019:  

To deliver the best possible results for a query, Google now uses natural language processing (NLP) to better understand searcher intent. To help Google understand the context of your content, it should not be poorly written or lack focus.    

It’s really important that you review all of your website content, including updating, consolidating and removing underperforming content. 

On a quarterly basis, consider revamping your content if it is 

  1. Thin on content – less than 500 words (dependent on the type of content and topic, studies have shown that on average, 2,000-word blogs / 1,400-word pages dominate position one in the rankings).  
  2. Outdated – includes misleading information or facts.  
  3. Duplicated – from another page on your website or from an external website.  

Top tips 

Secure high-quality backlinks 

Along with great content, Google also wants to see that credible high-value sites are linking to yours. This is a key indicator that your site is trusted and that it provides valuable and recent information for its users.  

Past algorithm updates:  

  • Major Penguin update in April 2012:  

Google penalises low-quality SEOs who use spammy tactics to gain backlinks, including buying links from link farms and PBNs (a network of websites linking to a single website). 

Review all the links that are pointing to your site on a quarterly basis and if any come from low quality or spammy sites then take steps to try and remove them if possible. 

Top tip:  

You can also work on a strategy to increase links from high-quality sites to your own website. Remember though, it’s all about quality, not quantity!  

Some tactics to consider as part of your link building strategy:  

Trade media – 

  • Research ongoing opportunities to contribute to industry news publications, including mapping up a list of titles to contribute and pitch on a monthly basis. 
  • Regularly review news in the industry to keep on top of debates and conversations, to sell in expert comments.  
  • Monitor feature opportunities in Journo Requests and HARO (Help A Reporter Out etc) who are seeking expertise to include in their content.  

 Research – Take the time to research key influencers who have high-value sites. Interact with them on social media and use effective PR to encourage them to link to your website. 

Broken backlinks – Monitor any backlinks your website gains and check-in quarterly to make sure that the backlink is still pointing to your website and not a broken page. If pointing to a broken page, work to replace the backlink or 301 redirect the old URL to point to a new, working one.  

Linkless mentions – Identify which websites might be mentioning your brand name but not linking and reach out to them to see if they’ll include a link to your homepage or another page  

Top tip: Type (intext:”inputyourbrandname”) into Google and it will return a list of websites where your brand is mentioned, but isn’t linked to.  

Competitors – Found a website that’s linking to a competitor? Pitch an email to the website or editor with some industry expert copy improvements and see if they’ll consider swapping out the competitor backlink for your own.  

  • Top tip: Type (link:https://inputyourcompetitordomain,com/) into Google and it will return a list of websites that are linking to your competitor. 

Directories – Set up listings for your business on directories that are relevant to your niche and location.  

Work to improve user experience  

Those visiting your website should be able to easily find what they are looking for. Sites that are not considered by Google to be usable will be negatively impacted by the search results. Review your site and ensure that it is clear fast loading and usable for your customers.  

Past algorithm updates:  

  • Major Mobilegeddon update in April 2015:  

Websites are now ranked on how fast and user-friendly their mobile experience is. 

  • Intrusive Interstitial Penalty update in January 2017 

Websites with intrusive pop-ups are penalised. 

One for your radar! An upcoming algorithm update:  

  • Major Core Web Vitals update to roll out in May 2021: 

Google will now combine previous UX-related signals with three new benchmarksmeasuring:   

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – How fast your page’s main content takes to load. Aim for measurement of 2.5 seconds or faster.  
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – How long it takes for the page to become stable. Ever loaded a page and clicked a button but the page shifts and you’re taken to the wrong page? That’s what we call an unexpected layout shift. Aim for a measurement less than 0.1. 
  • First Input Delay (FID)  How long it takes for the page to become interactive. For example, you click a button – how fast can the browser process that requestAim for measurement of less than 100ms. 

All three benchmarks must be met in order to qualify for a ranking boost.  

Top tips:  


Ever landed on a website and had a message pop up to flag that its “not secure”? That’s because they’re using the non-secure HTTP protocol (used to communicate between two systems over your computers network – the browser and the webserver).   

example of a site with no https

If your website hasn’t upgraded to the secure version yet, you’re at a disadvantage as both Google and users will see your website as non-secure.  

Past algorithm updates:  

  • Broad core HTTPS/SSL Update in August 2014 

Google now gives small ranking boosts to websites that are secure.  

Top tips: 

  • Head to your website and check the URL bar. If there’s a padlock next to your URL, your website is using HTTPS. If not, speak to your web developer or hosting provider to get an SSL certificate installed.  

example of a site with https and ssl certificate

If you are concerned about a recent algorithm or SEO update or want help preparing and responding to the nexthave a chat with us. We are SEO experts who can advise you on the steps you need to take to safeguard and improve your website. Call us on 01727 260187 or email